News / Europe

Pilot Flies at Night in a Solar-Powered Plane

A pioneering pilot is flying at night, after flying all through the day.  The catch?  He is in the cockpit of a solar-powered plane, with the aim of flying through the night until the sun rises Thursday. So far, pilot Andre Borschberg awaits dawn aboard the Solar Impulse HB-SIA aircraft.

Propellers whirred on the slim airplane's long wings as Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg set out to make history by flying a solar-powered airplane through day and night, without fuel.

Speaking through a headset from the cockpit after takeoff Wednesday morning in Payerne, Switzerland, Borschberg could barely contain a smile.

"It was very special, you know.  That's the moment, I think, that everybody has been waiting for since now almost seven years and thinking about it -- I don't want to say every day -- but almost.  That's a very, very important milestone for the project.  I guess everybody was excited, but I was very excited, too," he said.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA is a single-seater, solar-powered plane.  Its wings are as long as those of an Airbus A340 -- a whopping 63 meters -- and the top side of those wings are covered with a skin of solar cells.  During daylight hours Wednesday, the plane took in the sun's rays though 12,000 solar panels and charged the plane's 400 kilograms of batteries.  

The goal is for plane to keep its motors running through the night using the energy stored inside those batteries.

Borschberg said he was thrilled to be in the cockpit of a plane that was producing more energy than it was consuming.  And he is not simply the pilot for this solar-powered mission.  He is also Solar Impulse's chief executive officer.

The mission has not been without its setbacks.  The Solar Impulse team had planned for a night flight last week, but they had to postpone that takeoff when a critical piece of equipment malfunctioned.  At that time, the founders of the project, Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, expressed their disappointment as well as their hope.

"You have to understand that the airplane is completely experimental.  It is the type of airplane that has never flown in the past, so we need to assist the pilot from the ground, but we also need to assist the airplane itself," said Solar Impulse Chairman Piccard.

He explained that high-tech equipment transmits data from the plane to a team on the ground. That equipment, like everything on the 1,600 kilogram aircraft, is lightweight.  And, he added, the equipment records, in his words, "absolutely everything."  "The team will know about vibrations in the wings, about the position of the flight controls, about the efficiency of the solar cells, all the energy that gets in, all the energy that gets out," he said.

Piccard initiated the project in 1999, setting his sights on such solar-powered flight after he circumnavigated the world in a balloon.  He said the Solar Impulse illustrates the potential of clean technologies and renewable energy.   

The Solar Impulse team says Borschberg and the carbon fiber plane spent all day Wednesday slowly ascending to an altitude of 8,700 meters -- 200 meters higher than planned.  Roughly two hours before sunset Wednesday evening, the sun's rays were no longer strong enough to supply the solar cells with energy.  As planned, the plane began a slow descent, with the goal of maintaining an altitude of 1,500 meters until sunrise.  

In its test flights, the plane managed to stay aloft for 14 hours.  It has already surpassed that record with this flight.  

And, if the mission is successful, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA will be the first plane to ever harness the power of the sun to fly through the night.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs